Wednesday, April 08, 2009

PBS Frontline: "Black Money", echoes of "Syriana"


On Tuesday, April 7, 2009, PBS Frontline aired a one-hour documentary “Black Money”, written by Lowell Bergman and Oriana Grandos, about the use of bribery of overseas officials, especially in the Middle East, to win contracts and get jobs for American, British and other European companies. The link is here and it provides a video sublink for watching the entire program online.

The legal issues would stem from the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 (FCPA). The DOJ site for this law is here and it links to a “lay person’s guide”. Another guide on “Bisnis” is here.

The early part of the documentary focused on Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia, who served as ambassador to the United States (Saudi writeup of "His Royal Highness" is here). Jimmy Carter is interviewed, and Carter speaks unexpectedly favorably of Bandar, even as a golf partner.

The documentary then focused on former CIA official Robert Baer, author of “See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism”. Baer appeared as himself in the 2005 Warner Brothers/Participant film “Syriana” (directed by Stephen Gaghan). Baer is also author of “Sleeping With the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude” (Crown, 2003). According to the show, it was Baer’s job to orchestrate the bribes. I can imagine working for the CIA as an analyst, connecting the dots and ferreting out the truth, but not engineering violations of the law. And, yes, their agents have to take polygraphs.

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